Protesters, police clash in Darjeeling as turmoil deepens
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Darjeeling: The Gorkha separatist campaign in the hills of Darjeeling spiralled deeper into violence on Thursday as protesters and riot police hurled stones at each other, while a series of raids uncovered weapons from premises connected to the movement’s chief.
The demand by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) for a separate Gorkhaland state to be carved out of the Darjeeling hills of West Bengal is fast turning into a major political crisis for chief minister Mamata Banerjee, and is likely to cripple the critical tourist industry during the peak summer season. “The present situation in the hills is created by the state government. They want to suppress us using huge police force”, GJM general-secretary Roshan Giri said. He said the centre and the state government should solve the “political problem”.
In the fog-shrouded hilly roads of Darjeeling, GJM activists sparred with paramilitary personnel, hurling stones from a distance. The policemen responded by throwing stones back as a car burnt nearby. It was not clear if the car was that of a civilian or belonged to the police. Earlier on Thursday, police recovered more than 300 weapons, including arrows and explosives, in raids on premises connected with GJM chief Bimal Gurung, sparking a call by the separatist group for an indefinite shutdown in Darjeeling hills. Police said some party activists also were arrested on Thursday in the raids in Singmari and Patlebas areas of Darjeeling. The developments came a day after Gurung said that his group’s campaign will not stop until it a separate Gorkhaland state is created. He has asked tourists to avoid Darjeeling, a tea-growing region of West Bengal and also one of the most popular tourist destinations in India.
“Some of the premises of Gurung and other GJM activists were raided. We conducted the raids on the basis of concrete information. The raids are still on. We have arrested a few GJM activists,” a senior police official said on condition of anonymity. The police, however, denied that Gurung’s residence had been raided. Following the raids, the GJM called for an indefinite shutdown in the hills from Thursday. “The state government is indulging in politics of witch-hunting,” Giri said. “The police and the state government are provoking us to call an indefinite strike in the hills. We will inform the centre about the atrocities of the state government. We have called an indefinite shutdown in hills from today,” Giri said.
On the recovery of weapons, the GJM leader said, “What have they found? Khukri is part of our tradition, what is the harm in keeping it? Bows and arrows are traditional weapons. They were meant for students for archery competition... The GJM is being targeted as we are fighting for a separate state. The police and the state government are trying to frame false cases against us.”
“We will inform the centre of the police atrocities and seek centre’s intervention”, Giri said. The raids came on the fourth day of the GJM-sponsored indefinite strike in government and GTA offices in the hills. The GJM’s call for a separate state of Gorkhaland gained momentum after six other hill parties extended their support and unanimously passed a resolution on Tues day for a new state to be carved out of Darjeeling hills. The area is largely populated by Gorkhas who resent the imposition of Bengali, the predominant language of the rest of the state. Prominent among the six parties to join GJM is the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), which broke its alliance with the ruling Trinamool Congress.
The centre has dispatched 600 paramilitary personnel to assist the West Bengal government in restoring normalcy to Darjeeling.